The meniscus is the piece of cartilage which serves as a shock absorber between the tibia (shinbone) and the femur (thighbone), which are part of the three bones that form the knee joint. Each knee joint has two menisci, and a meniscus tear refers to the tearing of this cartilage. Meniscus tears make up a large portion of today’s knee injuries and it is especially common among people who engage in contact sports. But anybody can suffer a meniscus tear, irrespective of age or profession. Keep reading if you are interested in learning more about meniscus tears and how to treat them. Further down, we will also showcase some of the best knee braces for meniscus tears.
Types of Meniscus Tears
There are different types of meniscus tears depending on the location of the tear in the meniscus. Some of the types of meniscus tears include:
- Bucket handle tear
- Degenerative tear
- Flat tear
- Radial tear
- Longitudinal tear
- Flap tear
- Torn Horn
What Causes a Meniscus Tear?
Most of the time, meniscus tears occur during sporting activities where there is either direct contact or pressure from a forced rotation or twist of the knees. A sudden meniscus tear can occur when a player squats and twists the knee, or makes a sharp turn. It may also be due to a direct contact such as a tackle. It is common in football, soccer, basketball, and tennis players. Degenerative meniscus tears are usually age-related as it is more common among older people. As we age, the meniscus becomes worn and highly susceptible to tears. Twisting the knee while trying to stand up may cause a degenerative meniscus tear.
Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?
When you tear a meniscus, you may hear a popping sound around your knee joint. The good thing for some people (and what makes it tricky to diagnose on the spot) is that the injury does not immobilize most people. However, as things progress, the injured knee begins to swell and stiffen. Here are some of the common symptoms to look out for:
- Your knee becomes swollen and stiff.
- You feel as if your knee is locking and catching.
- Inability to move the knee in a full range of motion or complete immobilization of the knee.
- You experience a sensation of the injured knee giving way and unable to support you.
- If left untreated, a torn meniscus may move away from its original position, causing your knee to pop, lock, or slip.
If any of these symptoms sounds familiar, it’s time to get it checked out and as soon as possible. When you get to the hospital or doctor’s office, a physical examination of your knee will be done. If the area around your meniscus is tender, that is usually a sign of a tear. The following are the tests used to identify meniscus tears:
- McMurray Test: To do this test, the doctor bends your knee, then straightens and rotates it to exert pressure on the torn meniscus. If you have a meniscus tear, this movement will produce a clicking sound each time the doctor performs the test.
- X-ray: Your doctor may call for an X-ray to rule out other causes of knee pain.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): An MRI can produce images of your knee which may show (sometimes, but not always) whether there is a meniscus tear. However, keep in mind that an MRI is not considered an accurate diagnosis of meniscus tears.
- Ultrasound – Can also be used to take pictures of your knee to identify any loose cartilage.
Meniscus Tear Treatment Options
Treatment of a meniscus tear depends on the type of tear, the location of the tear, and the size. If you have a tear in the blood-rich outside layer of the meniscus, the tear may heal without treatment, or with surgery. The inner part of the meniscus requires treatment because that part lacks a blood supply. Meniscus tears can be treated with a non-surgical and surgical treatment methods. The non-surgical treatment involves the REST method which stands Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate:
- Rest: Take some time off the activity that caused the meniscus tear. You may be advised to use crutches to alleviate the stress and weight on the affected knee.
- Ice: Apply knee cold packs on the affected area for 20 minutes at a time, and repeat the process every 3-4 hours. Make sure not to apply the ice directly to the skin.
- Compress: Wear an elastic compression bandage to avoid more blood loss and swelling.
- Elevation: Keep your knee elevated to reduce swelling.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin may also be used to reduce the pain and swelling in the knee.
If nonsurgical treatment fails to provide desired results, arthroscopic surgery may be the next option. A knee arthroscopy involves inserting a miniature camera through a small incision to get a clear view of the inside of the knee. The view provided by the camera guides the orthopedic surgeon who uses miniature surgical instruments inserted through other incisions to repair or trim the tear. The procedure usually lasts about an hour or so. If the tear requires trimming, the healing time is usually shorter, i.e., 3-4 weeks. But if it is a meniscus repair, the meniscus will be stitched together and the recovery time may last up to 12 weeks.
After the surgery, you will be placed on rehabilitation exercises to restore your knee mobility. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy. Little stress should be placed on the knee, and you may have to use crutches and wear a knee brace during the rehabilitation period. (Keep reading for popular knee braces when dealing with meniscus tears.).
If you aren’t sure whether you are suffering from a meniscus tear or not, the following video may be able to help you:
Best Knee Brace For Meniscus Tears
Here are three popular (and cost-effective) knee braces that can help with meniscus issues:
1. DonJoy Drytex Hinged Brace – The DonJoy Drytex Hinged Brace is one of the most highly recommended braces for a meniscus tear, especially if you’re trying to avoid surgery. This brace uses compression to help alleviate your knee pain, provide stability, and help minimize the clicking, popping, locking, and giving way often associated with a meniscus tear.
2. Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Supporter with Bilateral Hinges – This Shock Doctor 875 Ultra knee brace is another popular choice when it comes to meniscus injuries. This brace provides Level 3 protection which means it was designed for medium stability and is usually meant for medium to more severe ligament sprains, muscle pulls and strains, as well as added protection for meniscus-related problems.
3. DonJoy Playmaker II Knee Support Brace – The DonJoy Playmaker II Knee Support Brace is another highly recommended brace for recovering from full meniscus tears and surgery. This brace features hinges for great stability, flexible straps, and a comfortable all around design.
In some cases where you have torn one side of the meniscus and OA or bone on bone friction is happening, your doctor may suggest that you try an unloader knee brace which tries to shift the pressure from one part of the knee to another. (E.g.: Ossur Unloader One available at Amazon.) If your doctor makes only a single suggestion don’t be afraid to ask why or ask about the possibility of using one of the braces above. You should always discuss it with your doctor before ordering a brace on your own to ensure that you’re getting a device that is going to provide you with the most healing benefits. I hope you never have to deal with meniscus issues, however if you do, I hope that you found this article on the best knee brace for meniscus tears useful. If you have any questions or comments, please use the comment box below to leave us feedback. Until next time!
Disclaimer – I am not a doctor and I am not qualified to provide medical advice. This information on the best knee braces for meniscus tears was posted for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are suffering from a different type of knee injury, have a look at our “Best Knee Brace For…” section. Or if you are just looking for something to relieve your knee pain, consider what a cryo-cuff knee wrap can do for you.
Until next time!
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